The Brazilian government’s plans to legalise the cultivation of genetically modified soya is being challenged by consumer and environmental group in the country’s courts.

Consumer organisations have so far successfully blocked the government’s attempts to introduce the new rule after a federal judge ruled that the necessary tests and studies had not been carried out to make sure the crop was not harmful to consumers or the environment. But, they now face an appeal against the ruling later this month.

Brazil until now has not introduced GM varieties of soybeans – making it attractive for European retailers and manufacturers who want to source GM-free varieties.

The government is active in the field of GM biotechnology and it supporters include Dr Crodowaldo Pavan, a top Brazilian genetics scientist and honorary president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science.

“I passionately believe that they should be legalised,” he said. “We can show that they are safer than conventional crops, requiring less pesticides and fertilisers. Half of the world’s population does not reach full human development because they do not have enough food. That is a crime which we have the power to prevent.”

Others like the Brazilian Rural Society, who favour making GM crops legal, have criticised the role of Monsanto in trying to influence public debate on the issue. Luiz Hafers, the society’s president, says “the discussion may be technical, the decision is political,” and can only be made by public opinion of consumers.

The pro-GM lobby believe the current court impasse will lead to the increased smuggling of GM seeds from neighbouring Argentina where it is legal.